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Ventures outside comfort zone helped valedictorian grow

Headed for graduate study in health
By Sarah E. Reynolds | Apr 10, 2021
Courtesy of: Bailey West UMaine valedictorian Bailey West stands on the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, where she studied abroad in spring 2020.

Orono — Bailey West is modest when she talks about her academic success, emphasizing the contribution of her teachers and the UMaine program in general. But the Stockton Springs resident, daughter of Brent and Barbara West, has been a top student for years, graduating from Searsport District High School summa cum laude. So it should be no surprise that she is this year's UMaine valedictorian.

In addition to graduating at the top of her class, the biochemistry major is the Outstanding Graduating Student in the School of Natural Sciences, Forestry and Agriculture, an Honors College student and a Maine Top Scholar.

She said her goal was not so much to be valedictorian as to do her best and make the most of her opportunities, and that she seems to have done. She has participated in the Honors College, a program that offers top high school graduates smaller, interdisciplinary classes with an emphasis on reading, writing and research that also helps build a sense of community among gifted students.

She also studied at University College Cork at the beginning of 2020. Because of the coronavirus pandemic the program, which began in January, ended early and she had to return home in March. But she said the time she spent in Ireland on a George Mitchell Peace Scholarship "really pushed me outside my comfort zone — being uncomfortable like that helps you to grow." In the time she was in Cork, she made friends she still keeps in touch with.

Studying abroad, West said, opened her mind to her position as a global citizen and helped her to empathize with immigrants, many of who are "in much less ideal situations" than she was in Ireland. Another experience that helped her to grow was going to Washington, D.C., with the Honors College as a freshman, which gave her a sense of connection to our federal government and made her realize she had something to contribute.

West expressed great appreciation for her teachers at UMaine, especially Julie Gosse, who has guided her research in toxicology. "She welcomed me into her lab when I was a freshman with very little experience." Gosse not only encouraged her along the way, she pushed her to develop independence and find her own areas of interest, then guided her in creating her projects. In addition, "My parents really inspire me … . I see how selfless they are and how hardworking they are," she said.

West said she was always interested in human health and high school biology made her curious about "the cellular and molecular underpinnings of human health and disease." As a high school student she did research at Jackson Laboratory, MDI Biological Laboratory and Maine Medical Center.

In her leisure time, she likes to hang out at her family's camp on Cedar Lake near Millinocket, hike, do Pilates and spend time with family and friends.

This summer, she will do a 10-week internship at Jackson Laboratory in mammalian genetics and genomics, and in the fall will begin a doctoral program in pathobiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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